Can’t see yourself on a yoga mat—or not today anyway? Jessamyn Stanley talks motivation and fear in this excerpt from her new book. Want more inspiration from Jessamyn? Pre-order her book or sign up for her love-your-body workshop and free community class at Yoga Journal LIVE Florida, Nov. 12–13.
Yoga is for all: That’s the message yoga teacher and body-positive advocate Jessamyn Stanley spreads to her students and 233K Instagram followers. But fear and lack of motivation can get in the way of even starting a practice. In this excerpt from her upcoming book, Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body (Workman, 2017), Stanley gets real with first-time yogis (and even yogis with a LTR with yoga) about what will get them on the mat.
Q: I have no motivation to exercise at all, let alone practice yoga. How can I motivate myself?
A: Oh, motivation, you fickle little bitch. Motivation is a fairy-tale nymph—she dances in while we’re feeling emotionally vulnerable in Dick’s Sporting Goods and encourages us to purchase expensive healthy living equipment thinking: “This time will be different.” She buzzes around our heads while we’re committing to expensive yoga class packages or gym memberships, but conveniently pulls an abrupt dip out when we’re silencing alarm clocks ten minutes before class.
I’ve become accustomed to motivation’s inconsistent presence in my life, and I’ve accepted that it would be foolish to expect anything else. Instead, I focus on doing the things that make me feel good, and yoga makes me feel better than anything else. On days when I’m undermotivated, I can still remember how good the practice makes me feel and so I drag my ass to the mat. Once I get on my yoga mat, it doesn’t matter if I’m motivated, because it would be too disappointing to put the mat away. That’s my advice—just get on the mat. Don’t expect to feel fully motivated every day; proceed full speed ahead without it. Soon you’ll realize that motivation is actually more like a car—really helpful if you have one, but you can find other ways to get around.
Q: What if my body is too weak to practice any yoga poses and I just fall in a heap on the floor?
A: So, I hate to break it to you, but that will probably happen. More than once. In fact, it happened to me last week. I’m not joking! Even after years of practicing, it’s extremely common for yoga teachers to struggle just like any new practitioner. The difference is what happens when we face our weaknesses. For example, after falling into the aforementioned heap, did you continue to lie helplessly in a pool of your own sweat and tears, crying for someone to come pick you up and drag you out of yoga class? Or did you get back up and try the pose again? Everyone’s body starts out at its own definition of weak—whether that weakness is physical, mental, or emotional. The most important part of practicing yoga is that even when our weaknesses cause us to fall, whether it’s on or off the mat, are we able to strengthen ourselves in response? Are we able to gather our fears and learn from them?
Q: Dear Jessamyn: Okay, but what if my body can’t make any of these shapes at all?
A: There are a million reasons why you might think your body is specifically ill-equipped to practice yoga asana. Maybe you are coming to yoga immediately after pregnancy, or after suffering a major injury. Maybe you’re very fat, and you think that I’m too “skinny fat” to understand the struggles of a real fat person. The fact of the matter is that yoga is for everyone, regardless of what your mind might be telling you.
If your body is injured, it’s most important to accept that your yoga poses may not look like everyone else’s. That’s okay. Just adapt the poses to your current state of being. If you can’t move your legs, work on the asana shapes that occur in the top region of your body instead. If you have issues with your arms, work on your standing poses. And always have props on hand to cushion your sensitive body parts, such as blankets to slide under tender knees or blocks to support sensitive wrists and hip joints. Set your own pace and be okay with moving slower than other people in the room.
And if you’re fat, simply make space for your extra flesh. Spread your knees and thighs farther apart to accommodate your stomach or keep your large breasts from falling in your face by tightening a yoga strap across the top region of your chest. Fatness is not an injury. It merely needs to be accommodated.
Want more? Sign up to learn more about Jessamyn’s upcoming book, due out April 2017: